2008 Mood Indigo Festival, IIT Bombay, Mumbai, India
I’m honored and pleased to report that I’ve just returned from a wonderful street painting experience in ‘Incredible India,’ specifically in Mumbai, where I was invited by Mood Indigo organizer Mukul Bansal, and his team members, to attend this year’s event and present street painting for the first time in this amazing country.
Some facts about Mood Indigo, known to the participants as MoodI, are that it is entirely planned, funded, produced and coordinated by students of IIT Bombay, India’s leading IIT school, for students from all across India, who they travel by train, car, air, whatever, to come participate, learn, socialize and be entertained with 4 full days of activities. With a 10+ year history, MoodI is an annual event that is well anticipated and attended – this year MoodI attracted over 75,000 students, a record turn out.
It all started when I was contacted by the organizing team to consider participating as a visiting artist, to present street painting to the attendees at MoodI. India has not seen street painting in it’s country before and the team were very interested in being the first to offer the wildly popular 3D street painting as a festival component this year. I was even more excited when the team asked me to create an educational platform focused on a ‘hands on’ participation for the attending students interested in learning about the art form. When I travel with my street painting work, my primary goal is not simply to just make a painting for that community, but also to inspire local artists of all ages to take up this art form and make it their own. I presented my proposal to the team and as a result, through a few days of negotiations, we received generous assistance from the US Consulate General in Mumbai to make it all happen.
I arrived about a week before the event was scheduled to open and never having been to India before was immediately overwhelmed with the vibrant pulse of the country. What a place! It was my first trip to India so for those of you who have been there, I know you know what I am talking about. After 22+ hours of air travel, I found myself at the Guest House accommodations on the IIT Bombay campus, which is wooded and park like. I had been a little apprehensive after the terrorist bombings that had rocked Mumbai only 3 weeks prior to my arrival, however, security was tight everywhere, which I expected, so I didn’t feel vulnerable. I was greeted with a traditional Indian welcome by the girls on the team when I arrived at my lodging house – a red bindi smudged on my forehead with some seeds thrown on it. So welcoming, thoughtful and just plain cool!
Awakened by the local eagles and monkeys the next morning, I went down to check out the street painting site. Because the campus would not allow me to set up on the streets due to permitting and traffic, we had decided on an artificial stone surface on which to work. The site was located in an area where all sorts of participatory events were to take place, along with other art exhibits. The plan was to create 2 large 3d paintings – one as an exhibition piece created with student assistance and one as an all student participation piece. I had designed the first painting ‘T-Rex Trouble’ to be an interactive painting, which, when finished, would allow students to become part of the painting for photo opportunities. The second piece was going to be of the Taj Mahal as seen through a reflecting pool, which was to be completed entirely by students. While large in size (6 meters x 9 meters) it was composed as a fairly easy 3d piece that hopefully would not intimidate any first time street painters. In conjunction with the festival, MoodI coordinated several street painting workshops/lectures for me at Mumbai’s premiere art schools, the Sir JJ School of Architecture and the Rachna Sansad Institute. These were conducted to familiarize students with the art form and give them an idea of what to expect at MoodI.
As a result, in the course of 8 days, with the help of an army of student volunteers, we completed 2 large street paintings for the festival. Just about everyone of the students went crazy for the 3D street painting style – I have never had so many people ‘use’ one of my paintings as much as these kids did. I’d estimate that I had over 500 participants get ‘into’ the painting for photo shots every day, which meant I had to go back and rework the piece every morning. Not a problem as it was well appreciated. We did have some wildlife interact with the paintings – a large snake slithered across the Taj painting at one point and a local bull stopped by to check it out. I was told the snake’s appearance was auspicious – well it certainly helped with getting the media to cover the art work. Thanks to a plethora of regional media coverage, the paintings were published in all the local Mumbai papers (Hindustan Times, DNA, Mumbai Mirror) and on regional TV. I think MoodI coverage in general was giving Ghajini (Amir Khan’s latest film) a run for the money that week!
During the festival I was able to walk around and check out the other artisans and competitions that were available to the students. I met some craftsmen from Rajasthan who seemed pleased that I picked up a hand full of jingly ankle bracelets from them. Also witnessed events like a chili pepper eating contest, saathiya (hindi duet), dance competitions and hand painting competitions, which were surprisingly creative. There was also an Indian artist named Awtar Singh Virdi, who created hand drawn anamorphic art using the reflective cylinder technique. He has been practicing it for years and makes works directly with his eye, in reverse and backwards. He also holds a Guinness World Record – for the Largest Anamorphic Portrait, set in 2004. We became instant friends – his work was inspiring!
I decided to add a guerrilla street art throw down on the last day of the event – went out to the street, did a demo and put out some chalk so people could work in the crowds of participants. That was a hit – lots of people stopped by to add their images to the pavement – Mukul told me the pieces are still there, 2 weeks later – guess they enjoyed that addition!
My hosts were so great – they made sure I was able to attend as many of the performances as I wished throughout. I did get to see ‘Immortal’, the show performed by NoFitState Circus from Wales. Theater, acrobatics, music, spoken word – a dark and unique experience. The event highlight had to be the Sonu Niigaam show on the final night of the festival. Known as the ‘Golden Voice of Indi-Pop’ and most recently featured on the ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ soundtrack, he certainly lived up to this. All in all a stellar show and experience.
So my 10 days of enchantment on the IIT Bombay campus came to an end and I readied myself for 6 days of touring northern India. I was so fortunate to have Mukul Bansal and Aditya Shekhawat as my coordinators – I have to thank them and the rest of the team members for making sure all my needs were met and for introducing me to Indian culture in a very thoughtful way. Mukul was great in introducing me to a whole array of new eats too – from my new favorite, gulab jamun (deep fried balls of dough soaked in rose-flavored syrup,) to the strangely delicious falooda (rose flavored drink made with milk, ice cream, nuts and vermicelli.) Even tried a MacDonald’s all veg ‘Mac Aloo Tikka’ sandwich! Not bad and I don’t eat Micky D’s in the States.
Finally I owe a special thanks to Ajmal Palakal and Robyn Remeika and their associates at the US Consulate General for generously sponsoring my participation in MoodI. Their care and consideration has been deeply appreciated.